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Breakdown of the Beatles

Michael R. Frontani started working at Elon College in 1999, after earning his Ph.D. in Mass communications at Ohio University. He is the author of The Beatles:  Image and the Media and a chapter in the forthcoming Cambridge Companion to The Beatles, as well as numerous essays on popular music, reception, and culture.

The Beatles: Image and the Media by Michael R. Frontani charts the conversion of the Beatles from teen idols to leaders of the youth movement and powerful cultural agents. Drawing upon American mainstream print media, broadcasts, albums, films, and videos, this book covers the band’s career in the United States. Michael R. Frontani explores how the “Beatles’ media image evolved and how this transformation related to cultural and historical events.”1

Beginning with the preface, the author starts with talking about the murder of John Lennon and its effect on the world. These effects ranged from mass disbelief to the feeling that it was an end to the counterculture revolution. His wife Yoko Ono had gone to the extent to ask the world for a 10-minute moment of silence; in fact many countries and people around the world did observe this moment of silence, which showed how much the Beatles meant to the world. The people of the time were captivated by the Beatles, “Many baby boomers could recite the facts of how a group of working class kids lived their own rags-to-riches story, rising from the tough northern English port city of Liverpool to enjoy the greatest commercial success ever witnessed in the history of popular music.”2 Little to the Beatles’ belief they were already extremely popular in America before they even arrived in the states. The Beatles entrance perfectly timed to impact such a malleable society in the 60’s and control the counterculture revolution with their music. Until their break up in 1967 the Beatles were by far the most popular group around the world. During the Beatles’ time the New York Times and The Rolling Stone were very critical of everything the Beatles did, In fact, The Rolling Stone even challenged the Beatles to have a competition with the other popular British band The Rolling Stones. These two media outlets played a big role into how the Beatles were able to make it into the lives of every citizen in the U.S. and in the U.K. Without these two sources of media as well as television, the effect the Beatles had on these two countries might have not been the same. Many critics realized how much the Beatles did to broaden the role of rock and roll as well as pioneer it during the 60’s. Shortly after Elvis’ reign, The Beatles came into the picture hoping to take the world by surprise with their iconic lyrics and songs. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band released in June 1967 was the most popular and influential album released by the Beatles and caused a lot of changes to America’s feelings towards war, peace, and love with songs such as “All you need is love”. However, parents believed that the Beatles also had many negative influences. Most parents believed rock and roll promoted sex and drugs and rebellion against authority, which it mostly was, but it was more than that at least in the eyes of the teenagers of the time. The Beatles did admit to taking substances such as marijuana and LSD regularly in order to continue their psychedelic journey to love and freedom. However, the radical time The Beatles had stepped into would prove to be just as important as the music they played.

From the later earlier parts of the book to the middle the author goes into more detail of the beginnings of the Beatles themselves, their break-up, world events of the time, and most important their effect based on the media and their image. When the Beatles first came to America they were not so optimistic saying things like, “America has always had everything…Why should we be over there making money? They’ve got their own groups. What are we going to give them that they don’t already have?”3 Little did the Beatles know that they would be giving America more than it could ever imagine. From their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show, the Beatles already had hundreds of women fans cheering for them as the attempted to enter studio. The Beatles were applauded and did not believe that they already had such a fan base in America. This fan base would expand to cover a majority of the world, and the Beatles grasped the lives of many with their music, charm, and boyish good looks. Beatlemania had begun in the U.S. and there was nothing they could do to stop it. Soon after releasing “I Want to Hold Your Hand” it reached number 1 on the sales chart in Britain and America. This great accomplishment set the stage for the success the Beatles would have as a band. The most important parts about the Beatles image seemed to boil down to: Beatlemania, the Beatle hairstyle, the band’s working class origins in Liverpool, the individuality of the members of the band, their universal appeal, and the importance of manager Brian Epstein to their meteoric rise. The Beatles were viewed as the boys next door and tried to first capture the hearts of the teenage American girls, which they accomplished in a short amount of time. Manager Brian Epstein was viewed as the fifth Beatle who made the Beatles. He got them a recording contract and made their sound important enough to cause a revolution in the recording business. Among the factors contributing to Beatlemania were adolescent revolt against parental authority, the increased status in belonging to a group, the sexual attractiveness of the Beatles, the support of individuals seen as fellow teenagers and underdogs, and the “frenetically felt urge for having a good time and living life fast in an uncertain world plagued with moral dangers.”3 The Beatles’ early image was consistent with the standard star image in that it was based around a rags-to-riches narrative and the teen idol example. Coupled to this process of standardization was a great effort expended on establishing the Beatles’ uniqueness, as expressed in the length of their hair, their clothing, their manner, and their “Britishness”. Even before their arrival in America, the Beatles’ hairstyle had caught attention of American media. It was something new, to be sure. The hairstyle had developed over time, first taking shape in Hamburg, Germany, during their second visit to the city, in 1961, and reaching its final shape during a visit later that year to Paris. The “Beatle-cut” had its origin in the hairstyle the boys first adopted from German art students. Soon, the long front of this “French” cut was combined with a long back, retaining a connection to the Beatles’ “rocker”-inspired ducktail. Hardly new to German and French youths, the hairstyle was a shock to America’s sensibilities, where crew cuts and other short styles were the norm. The promotion value of the haircut was seized on by Capitol, which, in late December 1963 during the buildup to the Beatles’ arrival, began placing advertisements featuring a silhouette of the “moptop” in Billboard. A Hard Day’s Night became the theme for the teenage revolution of the 60’s and the counterculture revolution. They were weary of playing cute, safe, pop stars, and conflict in Vietnam, civil rights, and religion. In effect, the Beatles transgressed Epstein’s carefully cultivated image, the one promoted since late 1963, and actively presented a more authentic version of themselves to the public one often radically different from that of the Beatlemania years. Of the Beatles, Lennon’s rebellious nature was the most palpable. Harrison might occasionally be petulant, as with “Don’t Bother Me”, and McCartney was second to none in his facility with Little Richard material, as with “Long Tall Sally”, a recording propelled along by McCartney’s Little Richard-esque whoops and screams. No vocalist, however, presented as pure an encapsulation of rock and roll rebellion as did Lennon, and this was an attractive model of rebellion teenage males.

Approaching the end of the book it delves deeper into the break up of the Beatles and their effect on the countercultural revolution. In the post-Beatlemania period following the end of touring, the Beatles attempted to leave behind their show business image and to make their public image more authentic and consistent with their perceptions of themselves. The Beatles’ new image broke with the “Fab Four” of the Beatlemania years and instead presented them as artists and committed counterculturalists. This part of the book examines various aspects of the image that emerged in the mainstream media in the years 1966-68. In late 1966 and early 1967, the Beatles set out to destroy their image of lovable moptops. McCartney went so far as to tell the Sunday Times that the Beatles might be breaking up: “Now we Beatles are ready to go our own ways…I’m no longer one of the four mop-tops.” He called his recently debuted mustache “part of breaking up the Beatles. I no longer believe in the image.”4  In reality, while the band was willing to leave the press guessing, by the time of the interview in January 1967 the Beatles were together in the studio in the midst of sessions for their next album. Later in 1967 the band finally broke up but this was not to say that the “Fab Four” disappeared immediately or completely. While the Beatles had begun to react to contemporary issues, the teen magazines held fast to the teen idol image of the Beatles. The word “counterculture,” for our purposes, is defined as “a culture by or for the alienated young in opposition to traditional values”, and refers specifically to the youth-centered oppositional culture of the 1960’s and early 70’s.5 In practice then, the counterculture’s rejection of society was displayed in shoulder-length hair on me, alternative clothing styles, open sexuality, a rise in the use of scatological language, and the widespread use of drugs. This “hippie” sensibility was at the core of the countercultural program espoused by the Rolling Stone during the peak of its underground period, from 1967 to 1970. The counterculture, however, was not monolithic, nor was it static. The Beatles were at the head of this revolution and became the idol of hippies everywhere. The Beatles image embodied, reflected, and sometimes was a catalyst of the much change that occurred during the 1960’s. Small wonder, then, that Lennon’s death unleashed such a torrent of both celebration and condemnation of the accomplishments of that decade. The Beatles’ image had meaning for both advocates and critics of the social transformation of the 1960’s and continued to resonate with the public at the time of Lennon’s murder in 1980. A quarter century after his death, and nearly four decades after the breakup of the band, the image continues to capture the imagination of the American public.

The author of the book, Michael R. Frontani attempts to capture the meaning and effects of every lyric of the Beatles to the reactions of the public. He uses world events and the many swirling ideas of the time to show the effect the Beatles had on it. For example, “…including the conflict in Vietnam, civil rights, and religion.”6 As well as the counterculture revolution and the teenage revolution, the author explains how the Beatles are at the head of the both of these developments and the effects these two revolutions left on the world and how they changed public opinion then and even now.

Michael R. Frontani has been involved with everything Beatles and in fact was a baby boomer himself, putting him into the middle of Beatlemania. He has been involved in many other projects analyzing the Beatles and their effect on the world ever since he started his educational career. He stresses the fact that the Beatles, “frenetically felt urge for having a good time and living life fast in an uncertain world plagued with moral dangers”7 The author wrote the book recently so it is hard to decipher the exact historiography of the book but considering the time he grew up in you can see a conservative new left view in his discussion of world events throughout the book.

I believe The book was a good analysis of the effect the Beatles had on society then and now and how they played a significant role in the counterculture and teenage revolutions, which they pioneered to an extent. As well as playing a role in increasing the public’s attention on world events such as the conflict in Vietnam and the civil rights movement. Also through the authors analysis of the lyrics and others views on the songs of the Beatles shows exactly how the Beatles were trying to influence the thoughts of people all around the world and to an extent how they succeeded in capturing these thoughts. Most importantly, he shows the effects the media had on the image of the Beatles and how their image was one of the most important reasons how they became so famous and successful.

The Beatles changed what is now considered American values as well as setting the precedent for the music industry and an example of how musicians should be. The Beatles left a mark on America that will never be erased and changed the way the world is today. Without them, “American values” would not be the way they are viewed today. The Beatles changed the music industry and how musicians are viewed today as well as pioneering rock and roll to become one of the most popular types of music of all time as well as creating a new genre called “pop”, this allowed the Beatles to, “…avoid becoming obsolete by continually pushing the parameters within the pop idiom, thus demonstrating that, in fact, rock and roll was an evolving form that could accommodate a wide range of influences, both old and new.”8

The Beatles: Image and the Media reflects upon the changes the Beatles made to American and British society as well as their effects upon the world. It shows how they were able to take a generation and control it with the singing of one note of the start of one lyric, but more importantly opened the eyes of Americans with their songs. For example, “the Beatles were able to express their longing for world peace with their song, “All You Need is Love” and it changed the minds of many Americans about the war in Vietnam”9